MANILA – A lawmaker on Wednesday said the government should focus its efforts to increase investments and productivity in the agricultural sector to preserve jobs, especially in rural communities.

In a statement, House ways and means committee chair Joey Salceda said agricultural employment remains crucial in rural communities, but it saw the largest quarter-on-quarter decline by around 511,000 jobs.

"Prices depend on a strong agricultural sector, and so do these jobs. As such, it is vital that we take every effort to increase investments and productivity in the agricultural sector," Salceda said.

Salceda made the remark after the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that the country’s unemployment rate slowed down to 4.5 percent in October 2022 from 5 percent in September this year.

October 2022 jobs data also showed the lowest unemployment rate in the country since the onset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Salceda said loans and investments to support the agricultural sector would be provided through the Agri-Agra law amendments.

Republic Act (RA) 11901, which repealed RA 10000 or the Agri-Agra Reform Credit Act of 2009, mandates an agriculture, fisheries and rural development financing system to improve the productivity, income, competitiveness and welfare of farmers, fisherfolk, agri-based workers and organizations and other target rural community beneficiaries.

Salceda is also expecting investments in agriculture due to the impending passage into law of the New Agrarian Emancipation Act, which condones some PHP58 billion in agrarian reform loans for 1.18 million hectares of land.

On Tuesday, the chamber passed on second reading House Bill 3917, which seeks to amend RA 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, by declaring the smuggling of tobacco, whether manufactured or unmanufactured, as economic sabotage and a non-bailable offense.

"I am also working on ways to increase agricultural financing through the Landbank of the Philippines, which has about PHP700 billion in free cash that it can invest in the sector, as long as it can generate acceptable returns on these investments. A concerted national effort towards increased food production will result in more agri-sector jobs and lower food prices," Salceda said.

He also highlighted jobs losses in the health sector of around 54,000 which can be remedied with stronger labor deployment talks with partners countries.

Salceda said one immediate solution to this is to increase the nurse deployment cap from the current 7,000.

He said the October jobs report signals that the economy’s reopening is creating new jobs in sectors that suffered greatly during the pandemic, such as wholesale and retail trade, transportation and storage and construction, adding that these new employment opportunities must be sustained.

"We must ensure that these new jobs are not seasonal (i.e., for the Christmas consumer rush), but are durable jobs that workers can hold on to," he said.

"Moving forward, I am confident that we have the tools we need to make these jobs gains durable and more inclusive, especially for rural communities," he added. (PNA)